With the first month of 2018 drawing to a close the hottest division in boxing in without question cruiserweight. While the top stars in other divisions continue to play the classic boxing soap opera of “Will they or won’t they?” at 200 pounds, the fights that need to happen have been getting made.
Last weekend in Latvia, Ukrainian sensation Oleksandr Usyk unified the WBO and WBC straps when he edged Mairis Briedis by majority decision. It was an all-action fight, with both men displaying technical skill alongside true grit.
This weekend the action shifts to Russia, where another pair of undefeated cruiserweights will face off in the Bolshoy Ice Dome, with Murat Gassiev defending his IBF belt against Cuba’s Yunier Dorticos.
Usyk has gotten the lion’s share of the attention at cruiserweight but Gassiev is an exciting young fighter in his own right. Just 24, he has the height and length to potentially move up to full heavyweight in the future. He has been tutored for the professional ranks by Abel Sanchez, the same legendary figure who developed middleweight knockout machine Gennady Golovkin.
Gassiev is 25-0 with 18 KOs. His biggest win to date came in December of 2016, when he knocked down tough veteran Denis Lebedev and edged him by split decision. Despite the dissenting judge, most observers had Gassiev cleanly winning the fight. He followed up with a Round 3 KO of Krzysztof Wlodarcyk, another long-time fixture at the top of the cruiserweight rankings.
For Dorticos, this bout is a major step up in competition. Still, expect him to give Gassiev all he can handle. At 31, he had an extensive amateur career in the vaunted Cuban program. His professional record now stands at 22-0 with 21 KOs.
The winner of this fight will leave with the WBA and IBF belts. And the contract is already in place for him to face Usyk in a unification bout later this year. By the end of 2018, we will have a true champion at cruiserweight.